Child Care Links, a private nonprofit agency that has served children in the Tri-Valley for more than 40 years, has now become a leading provider of a wide range of services and programs from providing food, clothing and baby diapers to needy families as well as helping them find child care.
Located at 6601 Owens Drive in Pleasanton, Child Care Links advocates for quality child care and acts as a link between government social service agencies and families.
Last year alone, according to Kelly O'Lague Dulka, Child Care Links' CEO since Jan. 1, the organization has provided more than $15 million to child care providers that aided the area's most economically vulnerable with its services.
In 2017, the agency also provided 34 training and specialized parenting programs for more than 500 parents and child care providers, with even more being held this year.
Dulka said she is especially proud of the achievements of Child Care Links' new Diaper Pantry, which she launched shortly after joining the agency. It's already provided more than 1,000 children with free diapers, with Dulka going online at Facebook and with other promotions to seek more donations to the popular service.
"We're also providing parents and caregivers access to a variety of necessary resources, including literacy materials and car seats, as well as parent education and support," Dulka said.
She added: "We provide coaching, training and support for child care professionals, in-home child care providers, licensed and exempt centers and caregivers who are family, friends and neighbors.
"We also serve as a resource to families who need financial assistance to pay for child care while they look for jobs. We know that keeping parents in the workforce is one of the best ways to get families out of poverty."
Dulka is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 25 years of experience working with children and families. She holds a master's degree in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley and a master's in pastoral ministries from Holy Names University.
She received her clinical training at Stanford University Medical Center and later joined the staff of the Children's Health Council in Palo Alto as a child therapist.
She was hired by Child Care Links in January after serving at the Tri-Valley YMCA and the YMCA of the East Bay for 5-1/2 years as vice president of youth development.
In her first year as the CEO at Child Care Links, Dulka said the question she was most frequently asked was, "What exactly does Child Care Links do?"
Her answer: The organization is not a child care provider. Rather, it offers child care subsidies, resources and referral services.
"We work every day to lift children out of poverty, to ensure that the youngest, most vulnerable residents in our county get the care and support they need," she explained.
She said that kids living in poverty, even for only a short time, are less likely be ready for kindergarten, more likely to go to school hungry, less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to be incarcerated, and, sadly, very likely to suffer negative effects for the rest of their lives.
"So, yes, we do offer a wide array of programs and we do connect families with high-quality child care," she said. "But our primary mission is to ensure that every child has the resources and support they need to thrive."
On average, the families that Child Care Links serve live below the poverty line, with household incomes well under $24,000. Many have children in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore schools where one-eighth of all students, or about 5,000 kids, receive free or reduced-price lunches.
"These families are crying out for services," Dulka said.
She noted that communities like those in the Tri-Valley that invest in children from low-income homes find that literacy rates for these youngsters are higher, high school graduation rates are higher and there's a greater contribution to society by those helped.
"This benefits the entire area," she added.
According to Dulka, studies show that the future success potentials of children can be predicted starting at the third-grade level. If children at this age aren't succeeding in school, then without help they're likely to have social problems later on.
"Our job at Child Care Links is really to love and nurture kids and the people who care for them, whether it's their parents, child care providers or the larger community," she said.
She added: "Our care typically goes to young low-income families who are living very much below the poverty line. This includes families faced with unexpected pregnancies, single moms, those struggling to get back into the workforce or going to school to complete their education.
"They don't have money for child care so we provide the subsidies. We screen their eligibility to make sure they're qualified. Then we find for them a qualified child care provider, working with licensed care facilities throughout the area. We also pay those providers to care for them.
"At the same time, we try to provide wrap-around services. Our eligibility specialists are really family resource specialists who connect those we serve to agencies that also can help, including Open Heart Kitchen for food and Tri-Valley Haven or Shepherd's Gate in cases of domestic violence."
With only 44% of children in Alameda County being ready for kindergarten at 5 years of age, Child Care Links also helps those served to take advantage of basic reading programs offered by public libraries in the Tri-Valley.
Parent education is another priority. Dulka said she's frustrated by the number of parents she sees who don't know how to parent. They know what to do at work or in their hobbies or in classes they take in art or computer science, but not much about parenting.
"They have a baby and the hospital thrusts that baby at them and off they go," Dulka said. "So, we work with these families to become better parents, and we connect them to a wide range of services."
Child Care Links also:
* Recognizes that many it serves are first-generation residents whose children have never attended public schools, so it helps them get connected with their school districts.
* Connects individuals to Tri-Valley One Stop, a service of the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District that helps both students and the general public connect with employers.
* Provides courses for child care providers, applicants, directors and employees to meet new licensing requirements that went into effect last Jan. 1 with mandated renewal training every two years.
But without doubt, the holiday season is one of the happiest and most-rewarding times of the year for Dulka and her operations team, volunteers and the thousands of children they serve.
At holiday-themed parties of parents and children served by Child Care Links providers, hundreds joined the organization's staff of paid workers and volunteers for food, refreshments and gifts.
Then next Saturday (Dec. 22), Dulka, her management team, staff and volunteers, in partnership with the Toys for Tots campaign, will hand-deliver gifts of children's clothing, socks, jackets, books and toys to more than 1,000 families that are registered with Child Care Links.
"We're busy wrapping the gifts now for this most rewarding effort," Dulka said. "It's our chance to wish everyone a merry holiday season."